Worse is yet to come in nettlesome Kosovo

August 03, 1999|By Richard Reeves

WASHINGTON -- The executive branch of the federal government took a one-day holiday this past week in the Balkans.

The president was in Bosnia, repeating his mantra, "We must win the peace." Secretary of State Madeleine Albright was in Kosovo, asking the Kosovo Liberation Army to be nice.

The KLA, unfortunately, is not nice by nature. "Peace" in Kosovo, as KLA members are enforcing it, means taking over the public buildings and whatever private businesses have survived, stealing whatever spoils of war they can get their hands on and daring NATO to try to stop them. Among the peaceful things the KLA was supposed to do, you may remember, was to turn over its weapons to NATO peacekeepers. Right!

What to do?

We begin with offers to bribe the KLA, hoping that most of the money will come from European countries.

Mrs. Albright tried to tell Kosovars on Thursday that they might have trouble getting the money, certainly trouble getting it from Washington, if they don't stop the free-lance violence of the day. That trouble, which may be getting worse rather than better, is the continuing killing of Serbs and Gypsies, and the little turf wars of Kosovar warlords.

What surplus?

Whatever happens, the money is going to be a problem. Far more than is understood here, our best friends in Europe (and other parts of the world) are angry at the United States for crying poverty in foreign non-military affairs at the same time that we boast about a huge budget surplus.

And whom should we give the money to? The fact is that there was not much government, legitimate or otherwise, in Kosovo when the presidents of Yugoslavia and the United States decided, independently but at about the same time, to rearrange the geography, topography and demography of the province.

Kosovar Albanian civilians were already the de facto administrators before the bombs fell and the Serbian paramilitary killer squads began their bloody work. The Kosovars, in defiance of Slobodan Milosevic and Serbia, had already set up an alternate civil government -- with its own mayors, police, schools, hospitals, roads and the rest -- as the KLA went about killing Serbian policemen -- and that apparatus was a casualty of the war.

Now the war has destabilized the parts of Yugoslavia that were not already broken by the Bosnian war, so worse is yet to come. Take the word of Hetem Hetemi, a Kosovar Albanian who says he led a guerrilla unit of 20 fighters during the war, and has now taken over the Mozart Cafe in Pristina at gunpoint, telling the Serbian owners to leave or die. Sitting outside his new business, Mr. Hetemi told the New York Times:

"Everything we had in our village was destroyed. I took a Serb car, but the KFOR soldiers [NATO's occupying force] stopped me and made me give it to them. What am I supposed to drive? These peacekeepers are worse than the Serbs."

What the Kosovars want

Take that as the story of death foretold. As the Kosovars take hold and become strong enough, in town halls and police stations or in the mountains, they will begin to demand independence. And they will begin to kill the peacekeepers. KLA members do not want freedom and democracy; they want their own country. And they seem to be well on their way to getting it.

What then is U.S. strategy after winning the war and quite predictably losing the peace?

Richard Reeves is a syndicated columnist.

Pub Date: 8/03/99

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